Tinnitus is defined as an abnormal sound perceived in the ear; this can be of varying types such as ringing, buzzing, hissing, chirping or whistling. The sound may be continuous or intermittent, and may or may not be associated with hearing loss. Mild tinnitus may prove to be a minor irritant, while severe forms of tinnitus may cause serious physical and psychological distress, leading to damaged interpersonal relations and quality of life.
Tinnitus can have multiple causes and aggravating factors. The causes include excess accumulation of wax in ears; ear or sinus infections; sudden or prolonged exposure to loud sounds; Meniere disease (a disease of the inner ear), otosclerosis (hardening of the middle ear bones); neck and jaw problems; neck and head injury; certain diseases like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, allergies, anemia, underactive thyroid and diabetes; natural aging (due to hardening of arteries and degeneration of sensory hair in the inner ear); and drugs like aspirin, certain antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, antidepressants, quinine medications, and some diuretics. The aggravating factors include fatigue, stress, smoking, and consumption of alcohol or caffeinated drinks.
Since there is no single medicine known to work specifically for tinnitus, the standard management of this condition involves looking for and treating any known causes for the condition. This includes – as the case may be – wax removal; antibiotic drops and oral medication for infection; medical and surgical treatment for trauma, tumors and otosclerosis; specific treatment of unrelated medical issues which may be the cause for tinnitus; and avoidance of drugs which may be causing or aggravating this condition. Low doses of anti-anxiety and anti-depressant drugs have been found helpful in some people. Occupational exposure to very loud sounds can be reduced using sound masking devices. Tinnitus effects can also be mitigated using tinnitus training therapy, cognitive therapy and biofeedback. Spontaneous resolution of tinnitus is observed in a few individuals; on the other hand, in some affected people, it may not get eliminated or reduced in spite of removing all known causes as well as taking adequate treatment.
Individuals with tinnitus refractory to standard treatments, and those with poor quality of life due to its severity, are suitable candidates for Ayurvedic herbal treatment. The primary pathophysiology of tinnitus involves degeneration and dysfunction of the sensory hair in the inner ears, and distorted auditory input to the brain. This pathology can be effectively reversed or minimized by using herbal medicines which strengthen and tonify the inner ear components as well as modulate auditory nerve impulses. An additional bonus is that most of these herbs also serve to reduce stress and fatigue, which are known to aggravate or amplify the effects of tinnitus.
Specific causes of tinnitus also need to be treated using additional Ayurvedic treatment. In the case of otosclerosis, herbal medicines are used to reduces calcification, and make the middle ear bones more pliable and responsive to sound waves. For Meniere’s disease, Ayurvedic medicines are used to reduce the pressure and fluid overload in the inner ears. For people with a known history of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, herbal medicines are given to reduce atherosclerosis and stiffening of arteries, and make blood vessels more elastic. Some people with severe tinnitus have a history of serious allergies, and herbal treatment for this brings about significant amelioration of tinnitus symptoms.
Several people with tinnitus benefit from the use of Ayurvedic tonics known as Rasayanas, which improve digestion and tonify the metabolism of the body at the tissue level as well as at the cellular level. The use of medicated oils as ear drops in tinnitus treatment is controversial, and especially contraindicated in people with perforated ear drums. However, this treatment does have a place in softening impacted wax; treating hardened and over-sensitive eardrums; and as additional therapy in aged people. Medicated oils have to be selected and used where indicated, based on their properties and advocated uses. Some are mild and have a soothing and strengthening effect, while others are strong and have an irritating or stimulant effect.
Depending upon the severity and cause of tinnitus, affected people may respond differently to treatment; however, most patients get significant relief or a cure from this condition within 4 to 6 months of treatment. Ayurvedic herbal treatment can thus be effectively utilized in the management and treatment of tinnitus.